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Alleviate pain minus the drugs

Today I am excited to share insights from my friend, Psychologist Greg McCracken on how pain works and how we can help alleviate it without the drugs.
 Ever wondered why some women have almost a pain free birth and other women go to hell and back?  Or when you read about the climber who had to cut off his own arm to save his life and get down off the mountain.  How did he cope with that level of pain?

“Well I’ve never given birth so my wife says I’m not in a position to comment on the first question, which is fair.  Here are some general responses to the questions.

Ask a nurse ‘what is pain?’ and you are likely to be told, ‘Whatever the patient says it is’.   This is a pragmatic approach to dealing with people in pain.  Of course nurses, doctors and others involved in this area quickly develop sophisticated methods of evaluating possible treatments to help relieve the pain.

But what is pain?  In this blog, I will be drawing upon some insights from Prof Lorimer Moseley.  He was recently in Melbourne, a guest of MedicareLocal, and there is a condensed version of his talk on YouTube (look up TEDx Lorimer Moseley) that runs for 15 minutes.  It is incredibly insightful and entertaining too.

 So what are some misunderstandings about pain?

1. Pain means I am suffering damage.

2. If I am in a lot of pain I must be suffering a lot.

Pain works like this. The brain recognizes there is a threat to the body. Messages are sent from different parts of the body and the brain also gathers information from past experiences to determine the level of pain required to protect us. Hurt does not equal harm. Walking barefoot on sharp stones can be very painful for a while but after an assessment of the lack of damage to the foot the brain will eventually reduce pain response even when the stimulation remains the same.  So the pain response is not always accurate or helpful.

A major difficulty for those suffering chronic pain is their pain producing neurons become more efficient and sensitive, requiring less stimulation to produce a stronger result.  These neurons end up trying to protect the body from something that is not requiring protection.  This is not only unhelpful but is exhausting for the individual and often leads to overuse on pain medication.

As a Psychologist, I work to help people develop more useful ways of dealing with pain.  One of the most helpful skills that I work with is Mindfulness.  This means developing skills to gain a conscious awareness of the pain, evaluate the threat and our fear response, then focusing on a helpful response.”

Greg McCracken Psychologist

I would love to hear your strategies for managing pain. Comment below or send me an email.

Stay tuned next week, my post is all about the secret bliss that comes from paying it forward.



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